On a rainy Monday morning, parents and their children, neighborhood and city-wide administrators and local elected officials crowded into the foyer of Nuestros Ninos Child Development School, to share personal stories about the importance of early childhood education, and rally against imminent budget cuts that would result in the loss of hundreds of child care programs across the five boroughs.
Councilmembers Diana Reyna and Bill De Blasio were in attendance, in addition to several neighborhood community groups, schools and education organizations including Nuestros Ninos, Small World, Horace E. Green, New Life, Round Table, Jonathan Williams, United Community of Williamsburg, Community Parents and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. The crowd gathered to express their outrage at Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to withdraw funding from kindergarten programs now sponsored by the Adminstration for Childrens Services (ACS).
Though two-thirds of the classrooms threatened by the impending budget cuts have been rescued, there are still 92 classes that face shuttering in the next few months. Those children attending daycare centers and kindergarten classes that will close their doors will subsequently be shuttled into public schools across the city, to attend shorter classes with older students. While daycare and kindergarten programs usually run from 8am to 6pm, programs operating out of city public schools are only able to offer care from 9am to 3pm, posing a distinct problem for working parents who cannot afford additional childcare. In addition, many students forced out of their pre-K programs will be forced into situations where, in many cases, they are the youngest in the class.
Apart from the obvious disadvantages of cutting these programs, parents and elected officials alike emphasized the dire need for a range of educational options and opportunities for young children at such a crucial age of development.
“We are blessed to be parents, to give our children the foundation for an education so they can be the best they can be,” said Ticara Leatores, reading from a letter from a fellow parent, Tammy Rosa, who could not be present due to illness. “Our children are our future presidents, congressmen and congresswomen, our future lawyers. These programs give them a second family, where they learn social skills, and to dream bigger dreams. They learn that nothing is impossible. Give our children options, keep their dreams alive and keep our schools open.”
De Blasio, who chairs the City Council General Welfare Committee, expressed his outrage at the potentially disastrous consequences of these budget cuts, and emphasized their unfairness—working parents who rely on childcare programs and low-income families who cannot afford additional supervision for their children. De Blasio made a point of expressing that, even in a depressed economy, the city and state have a responsibility to invest in the children.
“This fight is about values, and a vision of where we want to go as a city,” De Blasio said. “This city will only prosper if we educate our children, our future workforce. If we educate them today, they will be the basis of our economy tomorrow. If you want to talk dollars and cents, funding these programs is the best way to guarantee our future.”
Reyna also spoke about the social cost of cutting daycare, pre-K and kindergarten programs, and implored all parents and community members to reach out to their elected officials on the local, city and state levels.
“This system has proven, child by child, that there’s one fewer jail cell, or one less child dropping out of schools,” Reyna said. “Through these programs, our children are welcomed into the world, and celebrate diversity. Cutting these programs leaves three- and four-year-olds between a rock and a hard place, and it takes three levels of government to make a difference. We must make sure the feds recognize the importance of early education. At the state level, we must tell the governor, the speak and the majority leader that they must allocate and redirect funding back to early education and it must stay there. And on the local level—Children can’t pay into a system, so they often pay a debt—we must tell the mayor that they must hear us, and we must make a difference.”